Enrichment: Using smell

Bob finding treats in a snuffle rug

We all know our dogs sense of smell is much better than ours.  They have an astonishing 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses whereas we only have a meagre 6 million in comparison.  Added to that, the part of their brains in charge of working out what their smelling is 40% bigger than ours.  All in all, this means their not only able to pick up more smells but they’re significantly better at figuring out subtleties in those smells too.

Ruby enjoying animal sniffs in a field

As a result you hear these amazing stories of assistance dogs able to detect changes in their owner’s medical conditions, drug sniffing dogs finding stashes of marijuana in some incredible places and rescue dogs able to pinpoint people trapped below tons of rubble.  Our dogs really are incredible!

Molly, Dasha, Algebra, Callie and Max exploring a log in a forest

So when we start to think about enriching our companion dogs lives, tapping into that incredible sense of smell is a great place to start!

There are so many things we can do to stimulate our dogs sense of smell:

  • Sniff walks.  Sniff walks are exactly what they sound like; let your dog lead the way for the whole walk based on what they want to sniff!  You might not get very far or you might end up taking some new bizarre route, but allowing your dog to track smells it finds interesting is a great way to tire them out!
  • Farm animal smells.  Do you know someone who has a herd of animals or keeps chickens in their garden?  Ask them to pop an old t-shirt somewhere in the area their animals live so it can pick up the smells, then let your dog have a really good sniff.  Chances are they’ve not had chance to smell something quite this quirky for any length of time before; usually farm animal smells come to them through the air and they aren’t able to linger on them.
  • Animal scents/lures.  You can easily pick up animal scents used for training working dogs online; think duck, rabbit, pheasant.  You can buy them in stick or liquid form and pop them on a favourite stuffed toy to make it even more interesting.  With a bit of training you can ask your dog to wait whilst you hide the toy and ask them to ‘find it’ using their noses.
  • Live animal smells.  This clearly isn’t suitable for everyone as we don’t want to traumatise the poor animal being sniffed but sometimes it’s appropriate to let your dog get close and smell some new quirky animals.  For example, we keep crickets to feed a pet tarantula and Bob finds it really interesting when I get the enclosure of crickets down for him to have a really good smell of.  We keep the lid on so everyone is safe and then we pop them back out of the way after.
  • Treat/food games.  A great cheap and easy way to use your dogs sniffer; hide their food around the house for them to sniff out!  You’ll need to start easy so they get the idea, but you’ll soon be able to stash it in all sorts of weird and wonderful places!  This is a great thing to do just before you head out for a bit; it keeps your pooch’s sniffer and brain engaged in an activity for a bit, rather than getting bored and worried you’re not there.
  • Herbs/spices/essential oils.  Some smells are known to have a nice relaxing effect on our canine companions, just the same as they do on us.  Studies suggest vanilla, coconut, valerian and ginger have the potential to reduce stress in dogs in shelters.  Try popping a couple of drops of vanilla on a toy or blanket and see if your dog finds it interesting or perhaps even settles down for a snooze with it!
Max found his duck!

There are so many ways we can stimulate our dogs sense of smell; you’re limited only by your imagination!  Let’s help each other out; tell us in the comments, what do you do to enrich your dogs life using their sense of smell?

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